President Jacob Zuma has signed the Defence Amendment Bill passed by Parliament last month after a stormy approval process.
The Defence Amendment Act, signed into law yesterday, makes provision for the creation of a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission that will investigate and make recommendations to the minister on the conditions of service of military personnel as a grouping separate from the large public service.
It also clarifies the meaning of “military command” and who makes what senior appointments in the South Africa National Defence Force. The new Act also amends the service regime for the Reserve Force.
The enactment of the law was welcomed by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu, who said her department would finalise all details to ensure the effective functioning of the new commission. “The signing of the Act introduces a new dispensation in the SANDF and a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission; this is a historic moment for our soldiers as the new dispensation manages all affairs of the SANDF in a manner that recognises that soldiers are our last line of defence, they protect our nation. Soldiers are celebrating this important milestone,” Sisulu said.
The South African Press Association reports the Bill was briefly held up this year in a wrangle between Sisulu and Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, which took the unusual step of refusing to process the Bill until she had given them insight into reports by the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission. However, MPs backed down after the Speaker and the ANC intervened in support of the minister. The chair of the committee was subsequently demoted.
Both Zuma and Sisulu are on record as wanting to ban military unions, following a violent march by soldiers to the Union Buildings in August last year to demand higher pay, but the new law does not do so. This was after MPs warned that any clause seeking to do away with the military bargaining council or unions directly would be unconstitutional. Business Day reports today that a “defence expert” warns that a constitutional amendment is inevitable.
Frank van Rooyen , a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, and retired naval captain, said the bill would give “Sisulu the power to institute constitutional changes” to forbid soldiers from belonging to unions. “This bill is the first step to doing away with unions in the defence force,” he said.
Union leaders are adamant their formations are there to stay. Bhekinkosi Mvovo, president of the South African Security Forces Union, told the business broadsheet his members are worried about Sisulu’s tone. “She is very much obsessed with de-unionisation but she has not as yet won the war on this.” He added the service commission would be welcomed only if it fought for the cause of soldiers.
Pikkie Greeff , national secretary of the South African National Defence Union, said he was not excited about the commission. “The commission is not a sincere attempt to improve the conditions of service of the military.”